By Kent Danjanovich
South Dakota is renowned world-wide for its pheasant hunting – and rightfully so. Did you know that only three times in the past 20 years has the annual pheasant harvest been under 1,000,000 roosters and those “down” years had well over 900,000 harvested birds. Counts from 2012 show that almost 1.5 million pheasants were harvested – no wonder so many hunters from around the world travel to South Dakota each year to partake of this great sport.
The ring-necked pheasant is the state bird of South Dakota, one of only three U.S. state birds that is not a species native to the United States. The pheasant came to South Dakota in 1908 when a group of farmers purchased a pair of birds from an Oregon farm and released them into a field near Redfield.
The hearty pheasant not only survived, but thrived on the prairie, prompting the state to purchase and release 48 additional pairs of birds. In 1919, the pheasant population was high enough for the state to hold a one-day pheasant hunting season.
Over a century later, the combination of habitat, wildlife management and fortunate weather patterns have made South Dakota a pheasant haven and a world-class hunting destination with nearly 100,000 resident and 100,000 non-resident hunters hitting the field annually.
Now many hunters travel to South Dakota on “Do-it-Yourself” adventures, but many of those outings can result in tired feet and often not much results in the bird pouch of your hunting vest. A much better choice is to find a first-class hunting operation that not only can guarantee a successful hunt, but also great food and lodging opportunities as they take care of your every need. Well, one such lodge just happens to be one of our original Platinum Approved Lodges and time and time again, Tumbleweed Lodge in Harrold, South Dakota definitely delivers that world-class experience.
Donnie Bollweg grew up in this prairie land area, just about smack dab in the middle of the state and he and his wife, Judi, slowly but surely put together one of the most successful farming operations in the state. Always avid hunters, the transition into the hunting world was always in the back of their minds. Their son Michael soon became part of the partnership and the vision started to take form. Well as you can guess, 32 years later Tumbleweed Lodge has become one of the premier wing-shooting lodges in the world, all the while expanding their farming operation right along the way.
The Tumbleweed Lodge timeline:
The initiation of the operation began when Don and Judi’s agronomy/aerial applicator business, Bollweg Spraying Inc., would invite crop protection company representatives to study and review test plots used to improve agricultural practices. Meetings were held in the fall, after harvest, which coincided with the upland bird hunting season. It was at this time that the Bollweg’s discovered the relatively untapped market of natural resources and began offering day and overnight packages that included hunts following morning meetings. The first “lodge” was an old farmhouse that had 13 bunk beds and guests did their own cooking.
As the hunting side of things progressed, the name Tumbleweed Lodge came from Judi as a result of a brainstorming session to include something representative of the vast, wind swept prairies of South Dakota.
As “word of mouth” began to spread, the need for a larger lodge was eminent. In 1996, a 1280 acre piece of property was purchased that had been in Judi’s family since the mid 1920’s. The house she grew up in became the new lodge and was completely redone and moved up on a knoll. With a great vision and a lot of effort, the ground that had included rundown buildings, fences buried in 2-feet of blow dirt, overgrazed pastures and shards of iron protruding throughout the old yards were transformed into a mecca for upland bird habitat and propagation.
The year 1999 was a “crossroads” for the operation. Besides the continued growth of the lodge operation, the agronomy business had continued its expansion with a new 1.2 million bushel grain elevator facility to support regional growers. With each business growing their resources and stretching thin, they needed to make a decision. As much as they enjoyed the grain business – providing upland bird hunts and hosting meeting guests from across the globe was much more exciting. That year they sold the grain facility and expanded the vision by building the first section of what is today’s lodge facility. To keep up with the demands of repeat and new clientele bit by the upland bird hunting bug, they expanded with additions in 2000, 2002 and 2005 and have turned the lodge into one of the best facilities in the country. In 2009 they purchased an additional 1280 acres adjacent to the lodge property and are continuing to develop it for future habitat. Today, the farm spans more than 4000 acres with an additional 9000 acres of leased lands that are focused primarily on targeting grouse and prairie chicken and of course a little farming as well!
Throughout the development of Tumbleweed Lodge and the land supporting it, the Bollweg family has always been the stewards of the land themselves – keeping a family operation alive in a time when corporations have engulfed much of the smaller farms that once thrived in the upper Midwest. Don and Judi along with their children Michael and Melissa and their families are the heartbeat, which is reflected by the beauty of the operation.
Part of the overall transition has included adding more gamebird-friendly habitat to the ranch so that nowadays, in addition to the vastness of the prairie pastures and grassy creek bottoms, there are thousands of acres of corn, grain and sorghum fields, long tree belts and big patches of hardwood shrubs. “Everything here is designed to produce pheasants, grouse and partridge, to protect these birds through hard winters and to give everyone a place to hunt them from mid-September to the end of December. And because one part of our ranch property has a hunting preserve designation, we can hunt pheasants from the first of September to the end of March,” Bollweg explains.
The hunting season starts in early September, as their preserve status allows them to start hunting pheasants September 1st. Their season really kicks off with the opening of the grouse and partridge season which starts the third Saturday in September. This offers a great opportunity for a chance to harvest the ‘South Dakota Grand Slam’ which includes pheasants, sharp tail grouse, prairie chicken and Hungarian partridge. In fact, this early part of the season usually gives you the best chance of succeeding in this quest.
The lodge is located about 35 minutes north of Pierre, near the town of Harrold, South Dakota. Tumbleweed Lodge offers the finest possible experience for the selective sportsman as they have strived to become the epitome of Midwest hospitality and splendor. Your hunting experience is only heightened by the camaraderie shared among friends in the beautiful 18,000 sq. ft. lodge including accommodations for 24 guests with a cherry wood self-serve bar, game room, library/den and much more. Guests can also enjoyed relaxing in the 2200 sq. ft. gazebo adjacent to the main lodge. A theme including Native American painted buffalo skulls, mounts and antiques dating back to the days of the Wild West are blended to perfection with today’s creature comforts including the “Wild” Bill Hickok cigar room, steam bath, Jacuzzi and 60” plasma television.
Your day begins at 8:00 am with a hearty breakfast prepared by their extraordinary staff. Following breakfast the morning of your first day of hunting, you will be presented a safety briefing. At 9:00 am your guide(s) will greet you in the locker room and take you to the fields in hunt buses. At noon you’ll arrive back at the lodge for a warm lunch and a brief R&R period prior to the afternoon hunt. During your afternoon hunt, you may continue hunting pheasants or conquer the wild prairies for the elusive sharp-tail grouse and prairie chicken. Having the opportunity to shoot a multitude of different species separates Tumbleweed from the norm. At the end of your day you can enjoy a round of sporting clay’s or settle back, put your feet up and enjoy a good book in front the fireplace. After a five star evening meal, relax in the spa area, sit back and enjoy your favorite creation from the bar and reminisce about the days hunt.
Speaking of great food, how many head chefs do you know that can say they have prepared meals for three of the top 20 wing-shooting destinations in the world? Chef Joe Fossett can and has the accolades to back it up. Whether its Alaskan king crab legs, a 20 ounce top choice Angus sirloin or his famous apricot glazed pheasant, Joe knows how to tempt every last taste bud. Guests are guarantee that they won’t be able to walk the fields enough to offset the temptations their waist lines will encounter from Joe’s kitchen!
And besides the great hunting, accommodations and exceptional food, you will find Donnie, Michael and Judi, as well as all of the staff more than accommodating and very personable. In fact, they have become very special to us at the Sportsman’s News and we are proud to call them true friends.
As you can see, it is easy for us to give our full Platinum Approved Outfitter endorsement to the Tumbleweed Lodge. To find out more about the superb hunting opportunities and yes, even some great summer and early fall fishing adventures, take it from me you won’t find better habitat, guides, dogs and absolutely unbelievable numbers of birds available anywhere in the world, so why not find out for yourself? They offer packages that are tailored to your needs as they can accommodate groups from one to 24. Give them a call today to talk about all of the possibilities at 605-875-3440 and visit them on the web at www.Tumbleweedlodge.com or on our website under Endorsed Outfitters.